Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Big Man on Campus

Today, after visiting another center meeting, we went to go take a look at a borrower’s rice processing facility, which happened to be located right next to a local college campus.

As we tend to draw attention wherever we go, it was not long before the school’s principal appeared through the crowd of students, and asked us to join him for a chat in his office. We were honored guests. A few other teachers joined us, and we politely exchanged questions. The school’s English teacher, who was also an Islamic Studies teacher and visibly a devout Muslim, asked a few questions about American religion and society. The questions were framed somewhat in a way that they drew negative comparisons of America to Islam. He also asked Sam, who is from South Africa, “Isn’t it true that, in Africa, AIDS is killing everyone over 30, who is non-Muslim?” We tried to explain that AIDS did not discriminate along religious lines. We took the questions in stride, as there was no animosity in them, just curiosity, and perhaps a few pre-conceived notions. Anyways, after a few minutes of questions, the English teacher requested that we visit a class. We thought it might be nice to answer some of the many questions the students might have, so we accepted. 

We were walked over to an empty classroom. It was very long, very dark and very hot – the power was very out, of course. The class being held there was over, but more than a hundred students instantly filled the room, just to hear us speak. Boys sat on one side, girls on the other. We briefly introduced ourselves, and then took questions. I was expecting questions relating to educational matters, but we mostly got the standard inquiries. Are you married? What do you think of Bangladesh? How do you like the food? What religion are you? As we were in a school, to this last question I responded that I am Christian, but that I studied Islam in college, and had a deep admiration for it.  This received a strong positive response, and a student stood up and shouted, “Thank you!” People here are genuinely happy when foreigners take an interest in their culture.

After those few brief questions, we were shuttled to another class – an English class that was just sitting down for its lesson. Though, here we received fewer, even briefer questions - perhaps because they knew they were expected to ask them in English. We exited through a swarm of students watching from the door. On our way out one student actually asked me for an autograph. I told him “I’m not famous.” He responded “Please!” So, I signed the corner of a page in his text book. Wow. They really do make you feel important here.

The principal walked us to the edge of the campus, thanked us for our visit, and told us to tell the world about the Bangladeshi students - about how they are striving to learn - in the heat - in the dark. I thought, yes, I definitely will. I have a very profound respect and admiration for all the students I’ve met so far in Bangladesh. They are all working their hardest to make a better life for themselves. And for them to do so in the face of such adversity is beyond impressive to me. I can barley think in this heat. 

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